Like clockwork, every spring there are analysts and fans who spark the debate on ways to “fix spring football” by playing spring exhibition games. Many people have suggested moving FBS versus FCS games to the spring is the best way to solve this issue.
Many analysts look at these matchups as nothing more than a check to support the athletic department. This may be true for some smaller FCS programs, but the truth remains that these opportunities can change the course of a program and possibly create an opportunity for FCS players to show they can play with the best players in the country.
There have been 20 FCS over FBS upsets in the past two seasons, including five wins over Power Five opponents. Everybody understands that these upsets are rare, but even in the losses, these games allow players at these FCS programs to create their path to the NFL.
South Carolina State defensive back Cobie Durant was drafted by the Los Angeles Rams in the fourth round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Rams’ general manager Les Snead told the media that Durant jumped on his radar after an impressive performance against No. 6 Clemson earlier that season. Durant finished the game with two interceptions and two pass breakups.
Another example can be found in the same NFL Draft as Samford wide receiver Montrell Washington was drafted by the Denver Broncos in the fifth round. Washington exploded onto the scene with a three-touchdown performance against Florida, including a spectacular 98-yard kickoff return.
A spring exhibition will not offer an opportunity to prove you can compete at the highest level of college football. These potential exhibitions would only serve the needs of the FBS programs … As Andy Staples of The Athletic writes, “North Dakota State’s starters would make his (Nick Saban) younger players understand everything he’d been saying about how much work they still need to uphold Alabama’s standard.”
In other words, the nine-time FCS National Champions would be demoted to playing against bench warmers in an exhibition rather than playing an actual FBS opponent in the regular season. I’m sure the NFL scouts and general managers would love to see Cody Mauch or Hunter Luepke dominating a lineup of true freshmen to validate Nick Saban’s lesson plan throughout the spring.
Another missing component of this debate is the opportunity for FCS programs to change the narrative surrounding the subdivision or their program overall.
If you were to ask any college football fan to name the first memory that comes to mind when you say, “Appalachian State,” the first answer would be the 2007 upset win over Michigan for the Mountaineers. App State was aiming to win their third consecutive FCS National Championship that season and faced No. 5 Michigan on Sept. 1, 2007. The Mountaineers blocked the Wolverines’ game-ending field goal attempt to pull off one of the most historic upsets in college football history.
Another remarkable example was Howard’s upset win over UNLV in 2017. The Bison entered the game as 45.5-point underdogs and pulled off the biggest point-spread upset win in college football history. Caylin Newton totaled 330 total yards and scored three touchdowns in his first career collegiate start.
The FCS is constantly overlooked and undervalued in the college football landscape. This matters when you start looking at the number of players who are fighting for opportunities at the next level.
It is time for the leaders across the FCS landscape to answer a real question … Is receiving a mediocre check while removing all the other benefits of these matchups worth sacrificing the opportunities of the student-athletes at their university for FBS revenue?
At the end of the day, spring exhibitions will most likely become the new normal in college football. It is the responsibility of the people at the highest level of FCS football to ensure that the regular season opportunities do not fall by the wayside due to this potential change.
Whether it is asking for more money to play these spring games or making FBS programs sign a two-game agreement to play one game in the spring and one game in the fall … The FCS should not be relegated to a spring football league in the eyes of FBS football analysts and fans.
Exposure for the top players and programs at the FCS level should not be traded to fix a non-existent problem for FBS programs. It feels like another way to discredit FCS football and the success of the athletes who are fighting for an opportunity to be drafted with their FBS counterparts.
Spring games do not serve any importance in the grand scheme of college football other than generate some buzz around campus and give an opportunity for fans to come see what their favorite team may potentially look like entering the next season. Neither of those goals should be placed ahead of what is best for college athletes at the FCS level.
Spring exhibition games may be the future of college football, but that does not mean it should come at the expense of FCS football and the student-athletes at FCS universities. I would suggest that the silence of many FCS commissioners and athletic directors in this debate speaks volumes.